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The Eleven Madison Park Hospitality Guru Who Worked on ‘The Bear’ Opens Up


Until Season 3 of “The Bear,” only viewers who understood restaurant hospitality at its highest levels could spot the Will Guidara Effect.

Mr. Guidara was the Paul McCartney to chef Daniel Humm’s John Lennon at Eleven Madison Park, the acclaimed New York City restaurant they once co-owned. During their 13 years together, the staff’s signature was delivering to diners small delights and outrageous surprises based on guest research and bits of overheard conversation. . He once made a quick run to buy a dirty-water dog that Mr. Humm cheffed up with quenelles of sauerkraut and relish and delivered it to a table of food-focused tourists who had mentioned they were leaving town without tasting a New York hot dog.

Mr. Guidara’s book “Unreasonable Hospitality” first made a cameo in the show’s second season. The episode, called “Forks,” traces the evolution of the sweet but troubled Richie Jerimovich (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who had been running the sinking Chicago sandwich shop that is at the center of the show. When it transforms into a fancy restaurant called the Bear, Richie finds his calling as a hospitality professional after he puts on a suit and spends a week learning service at a restaurant with three Michelin stars.

While he’s training, a waiter overhears a family say they are bummed to leave Chicago without trying deep-dish pizza. Richie runs to Pequod’s pizza shop, brings back a pie and the chef, with a cookie cutter and some micro basil, turns it into a modernist dish that Richie delivers to the astonished guests. It’s pure Guidara.

This season, Mr. Guidara was listed as a co-producer and given a story credit on an episode titled “Doors.” Sharp-eyed viewers noticed his “WG” initials when Richie texts someone about a restaurant closing, and he has a significant cameo in the season finale, delivering an impassioned speech about hospitality that begins, “There’s a nobility in this.”

In his first interview since the third season dropped on June 26, Mr. Guidara talks about the show, service and celebrity. (The interview has been condensed and edited.)

A lot of people were surprised to see not only your cameo but your name listed as a co-producer. You even have a story credit on the “Doors” episode in the new season. How did you become essentially the show’s service muse?

I got to know Chris (the series’s creator and writer Christopher Storer) years ago, actually, before Season 1. Someone introduced us just to talk about restaurants generally as he was doing his research. We stayed in touch and started to become closer and closer. They used the book for “Forks” in Season 2 and that led to more and more conversations as the show was going into Season 3, and the restaurant was becoming a proper restaurant. He said, “Hey, would you ever consider doing this?” Getting to work on something that I already love with people that I like who I can learn from? It’s just like an impossible thing to say no to, right?

One of your ideas that showed up first in that “Forks” episode and that carried through in a bigger way in Season 3 is the notion of a dreamweaver, which is a position you created when you were at Eleven Madison Park and wrote about in depth in your book. You describe it as the position that embodies the philosophy of unreasonable hospitality.

I get notes from people in pretty much every industry now telling me that they have dreamweavers working within their companies, which is very cool. The idea is that any successful person who is even remotely talented in whatever craft they have chosen to pursue is pretty unreasonable, pretty creative and pretty intentional in pursuit of whatever product they’re putting out there. It’s just about taking that same almost maniacal focus and putting it towards making people feel seen and giving them a sense of belonging.

I understand they even had dreamweavers on the set of “The Bear.”

Yes, especially for the “Seven Fishes” episode with all the guest stars (in Season 2). They wanted to make sure that all the guest stars felt like they were being welcomed into their home and felt hospitality. Chris was like, “Listen, if people feel welcome, if they feel at home, we’re going to get their best work out of them, right?” They embodied unreasonable hospitality on the set.

Can you give me an example of some dreamweaving on set?

Sure. They knew what everyone’s coffee order was. So when Jamie Lee Curtis gets there they can say. “Hey, this is the coffee that you like. We have it here for you right now.” Obviously, I’m not a seasoned professional in the world of television, but I think you’re normally accustomed to not really great drip coffee out of the commissary.

You often say everyone has hospitality in them, they just need it to be encouraged out of them.

Sometimes the best way for that to happen is to just feel — only once — how good it feels when you bestow graciousness upon another person and the extent to which that can be infectious and addictive right away. I try to explain that in the book, but I don’t think you can ever, in the written word, express it as beautifully as they did when that deep-dish pizza goes down and Richie witnesses their reaction and then is racing home, listening to Taylor Swift and then pacing around the bar and reading the book. You can tell he’s hooked and now he has found his purpose.

Is there a place where producing a television show and producing a night of service at a restaurant are the same?

When you’re in the back-of-house in a kitchen and when you’re on a set, it feels identical. And everyone eats together in both environments. At the restaurant you’ve got the sommeliers, the bartenders and the servers and the cooks. On set you have the camera and the crew and props, and then the actors and the writers and the producers. At a restaurant, you want everyone to care so much about their specific part of the puzzle that they’re willing to push to make sure that their specific part of it doesn’t get watered down. But they do so with a profound respect for all the other people around them. That culture was folded into “The Bear.”

Saying that you care very much about detail might be an understatement. Tell me some detail you really appreciated that they got right on “The Bear.”

When I stepped on that set, I felt like a fish out of water, and I had things I wanted to say because I noticed little things. And Chris would always say, like, dude, just shout it out. If you see something, just shout it out, whether it was like, you know, saying to Jeremy, “Hey, that’s not how I would pick up the napkins once I was already holding a tray, or that’s not how we would do this.” Everyone was always like, “Oh man, thank you so much.”

If you pause in that episode when Matty Matheson (the Canadian chef who plays the character Neil Fak) is showing Jeremy (Allen White, who plays the chef Carmy) photos of the critics who faces are pasted on the wall, and just zoom in on your iPad and read everything that they wrote for every one of those critics. They just seized the opportunity to be creative. I told the props people that if I ever open a restaurant again, you guys have to come help me open it because they made opening a restaurant really fun.

The season opens with a scene that looks like it might be at Eleven Madison Park. Sydney (portrayed by Ayo Edebiri) dines alone and tastes a dish of hamachi with blood orange that Carmy made. She would later become his chef-partner at the Bear. Was that weird to see your old haunt recreated on television? Were you part of really making that look like the old Eleven Madison Park?

No, I was not part of that, nor is it explicitly Eleven Madison. In a bizarre way, it’s kind of like this TV-land amalgamation of what that restaurant represented.

So Carmy’s tormentor is a chef played by Joel McHale. At one point in the pilot, we learn that Carmy worked at Eleven Madison. So the tormentor is not modeled after Daniel Humm?

No. It was like [the restaurant] Daniel was Daniel, right? And Noma was Noma, and French Laundry was French Laundry, right? And even Ever was Ever. This restaurant would have been Eleven Madison if it was meant to be Eleven Madison.

The season finale had some big names: Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, Malcolm Livingston II and your wife, Christina Tosi. They are gathered at the funeral dinner for Ever, a real restaurant that plays the role of the three-star restaurant where Richie trained. How much of your speech and other speeches in that final scene were scripted, and how much was from your heart?

Nothing was scripted in that final scene. I’m not going to pretend that everything out of my mouth was the first time it ever came out, but the way that scene happened, it was crazy. We all sat down and Chris said, “Hey guys, just talk about this for a while.” And then we talked, almost forgetting that the cameras were there.

Is there some big thought to draw about the state of hospitality in America and the reaction to it as it’s portrayed in “The Bear”?

A lot of my friends in the industry say this is the first show that really focuses on the perspective of the people who work in those restaurants and does it accurately. One of my favorite definitions of hospitality is that it’s about giving people a sense of belonging. This show is a beautiful celebration of the fact that this industry does that for so many of the people that work in it, and gives people who are perhaps rudderless some direction and some purpose, and gives the people who already have that direction something to be more passionate about. I’ve read a couple of pieces from restaurateurs who thought that Season 3 was too focused on the negative and the dramatic side of restaurants. I think if that was what you walked away from it with, I don’t think you watched it closely enough.



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